Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Dangers of Rereading

I suppose it's not unusual to find that authors you once were fond of, particularly during your adolescence, are not what you thought they were on a second reading.  I remember reading a good deal of Nietzsche, once.  Now, I'm not sure why I took the time to do so.  I suppose he can be said to have proclaimed quite a few things, some of them interesting, but it seems he did not think it significant to explain his many assertions in any reasonable manner.  As I grow older, I tend to think explaining is important; it's a good indication that one has actually thought about what one is contending.  There was a time I read Ayn Rand with something approaching pleasure, delighting in some perverse sense in her solemn and relentless sermonizing.  Now, I find it hard to read her without giggling.

I was surprised, though, to find myself disappointed when reading Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad.  I recalled Twain as being an insightful and thoughful critic of human affairs, and as a great American comic writer.  It was depressing to read his little sketches about this trip to Europe by what appeared to be a number of stock American comic characters, some of whom were characterized as mere buffoons, all of whom were uninteresting.  They seemed to lack all credibility.  Was Twain playing up to some readers back home, who actually found such stuff amusing?  Even his description of the sights of the Azores, Gibraltar and Tangiers, for example, were uninspired.  The foreigners are dirty and smelly, and so for that matter are their cities.

Now, I must confess that I simply stopped reading.  I found myself dreading to read any more, after a time.  It's quite possible that he eventually gave up his hackneyed descriptions of the antics of his fellow voyagers, and that he came to make interesting observations on the people and places he visited.  If so, I didn't have the patience to read on.  This work, and his other works, are apparently the subject of intense study by academics and creative writers.  Perhaps I'm at fault.

But it seemed shoddy stuff, and even if the quality of his writing is attibutable to the fact that he was writing on a deadline, as a journalist, I think he comes off looking rather shabby.  Mencken would have done far better with such subject matter.  Some creative writers can be outstanding journalists as well, e.g. Stephen Crane.  Did they have more respect for the intelligence of their readers, and their own intelligence, than old Sam?  I wonder if he came to be a tiresome parody of himself in time--the folksy humorist.  For that matter, Thurber would have done a better job making the characters amusing.

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